What is your initial response toward the character of Victor Frankenstein? How did this feeling change the end of chapter IV (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein)?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This questions provokes a very subjective (influenced by personal feelings and emotions) answer. Not every reader will react to Mary Shelley's protagonist, Victor Frankenstein (from the novel Frankenstein), in the same way. Initial responses to his character will vary greatly. 

Some readers may feel sorry for Victor based upon the predicament "we" find him in at the opening of the novel. Frozen and near death, readers do not have much to go on regarding how Victor came to end up on Walton's ship. Instead, all readers know is that he is utterly near death. 

Other readers may not feel sorry for Victor at all. They may look at his privileged life as one of excess and superiority. Failing to see any reason to feel sorry for him, some readers may refuse to connect with him based upon differences between Victor and themselves. 

Still other readers may not have made a choice about the novel's tragic hero. Knowing that mush more is yet to be revealed, some readers may be unwilling to decide about how they feel regarding the main character. 

By the end of chapter four, some readers may have made very specific decisions about Victor. Some readers may no longer feel connected to him based upon his "playing God." Other readers may now embrace Victor, based upon the fact that he is challenging life, death, and society's dictation of what is conscionable. Still other readers may feel a morbid curiosity about him and his future. 

Essentially, how readers feel about Victor is a personal decision which cannot be generalized or universalized. Readers will feel differently about Victor for very individualistic reasons. 

aszerdi | Student

The audience first encounters Victor Frankenstein in Letter Four when Walton pulls him from the ice while on his own voyage. Before hearing Frankenstein's story, Walton sees him in a very favorable light. Because Walton's impression is the only information the audience has about Dr. Frankenstein at this point in the story, the reader too adopts a sympathetic and even admiring opinion of Victor.

"My affection for my guest increases every day. He excites at once my admiration and my pity to an astonishing degree. How can I see so noble a creature destroyed by misery without feeling the most poignant grief? He is so gentle, yet so wise; his mind is so cultivated, and when he speaks, although his words are culled with the choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and unparalleled eloquence." (Letter 4)

In the conversation that follows, the dialogue reveals that both Frankenstein and Walton harbor high aspirations for themselves. They both desire glory and knowledge. These desires caused Victor Frankenstein to be reckless and make selfish choices. He hope that by telling his tale he can persuade Walton to not make the same decisions. Thus, Frankenstein no longer appears to be such an admirable character to the reader.

"You may easily perceive, Captain Walton, that I have suffered great and unparalleled misfortunes. I had determined at one time that the memory of these evils should die with me, but you have won me to alter my determination. You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been."

The madness of Victor's desire for god-like power to create is revealed to the reader in the following passage from chapter 4:

"I could not tear my thoughts from my employment, loathsome in itself, but which had taken an irresistible hold of my imagination. I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed. "

This past passage from the penultimate paragraph of chapter 4 finally reveals that not only were Frankenstein's pursuits selfish and irresponsible, they were immoral as well.

"If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquillity of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved, Caesar would have spared his country, America would have been discovered more gradually, and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed. "

At the end of chapter four the reader no longer views Frankenstein with the wonder and admiration that Walton expressed upon first meeting him. Rather, Dr. Frankenstein becomes a man maddened with his own ambition who recklessly desired the god-like powers of creation.

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